Returning players: Jarrett Stidham, Cody Kessler
Free agents: Tom Brady
2019 recap: At the age of 42, Brady started all 17 games for the Patriots last season and played all but 15 of the team’s offensive snaps. With a lot going on around him in terms of the offensive line, running game, tight end and wide receivers, Brady had a statistically subpar season. He had his lowest completion percentage (60.5) since 2013, his fewest touchdowns (24) in a full season since 2006 and lowest passer rating (88.0) since 2013. Brady struggled to build a rapport with pretty much anyone other than Julian Edelman or James White and pressure had him throwing the ball away with alarming regularity. While the end result was far from solely his fault, Brady had a mediocre season for a Patriots offense that was by far the weaker unit in New England.
2020 projection: The short-term future of the quarterback position in New England is the biggest story in football these days. Brady Watch took over Super Bowl week and will continue to dominate until some clarity comes to TB12’s employment status for 2020. His contract voids and he’ll become a free agent on March 18 unless he reaches a new deal with New England before that point. If Brady returns to his only NFL home for a 21st season it stabilizes the quarterback position. If the sky falls in Patriot Nation and Brady moves on, it leaves maybe the biggest shoes to fill in sports history. Stidham showed enough as a fourth-round rookie last summer to deserve a chance to develop but wouldn’t seem ready to take over as a full-time starter. Kessler is a journeyman backup at best. If Brady moves on there would be a need to find a veteran bridge starter either in free agency or via trade. It truly feels like no one really knows what’s going to happen with Brady at this point – including the parties involved. Nearly everyone who’s asked – analysts, retired players, current and past teammates -- expresses the idea that it would be hard to see TB12 in any other uniform, but until he officially returns to the Patriots that unlikely future remains a legitimate possibility.
Draft/free agency need – High: If Brady leaves, this is a Code Red, DEFCON 1 situation. In that scenario a veteran bridge starter would be a necessity while another young developmental option would also be likely. If Brady returns, adding another option with upside as a starter – either a veteran or a rookie – might still be a wise plan of attack with a focus on the future at the most important position in sports.